Morgan County moved into its new $40 million high school this year.
The boys basketball team is nicely neoteric, too. All you need do is ask head coach Matthew Perry about newness after last season’s 18-12 campaign.
“Somewhat,” Perry said. “We lost four starters off of last year’s team. We have one kid back that has experience in the starting lineup. We’ve got our sixth man back.
“We’ve got a host of young kids that have worked hard over the summer.”
When you have such a blooming bunch of youthful players, there’s the requisite Xs and Os re-teaching.
“As far as teaching, yeah, we’re teaching a new system offensively,” Perry said. “They’ve taken to it extremely well. There are days we have struggles, but that goes with any club, any team.”
Perry wants Morgan County’s offense to speed up. It’s kind of like pizza dough — start with a lump, then stretch it out to create mismatches.
Defensively, look for the Cougars to play half-court man-to-man and possibly press at half-court and add a pinch of zone.
“At this point, I think it’s been a smooth transition for us,” Perry said. “Even though we lost four starters, it’s not been as difficult as I thought, simply because the kids are playing really hard; they’re being receptive to what we’re doing.”
Whatever Morgan County does, 6-foot-1 senior Jake Helton will be a major component — his 16.7 points and 6.8 rebounds a game is tops among the returnees. Perry said Helton can play both guard and both forward spots.
Accordingly, Perry said Helton must be the leader.
“We talk about it every day,” Perry said. “He has to set the standard of how hard we want to play in practice. He has to allow his voice to be known, he has to be a great communicator.”
Helton isn’t afraid to call out a teammate.
“I wouldn’t say I’m mean to ’em,” he said. “I just like to encourage. If they did something wrong … I’m gonna tell ’em to fix it, but in a nice way. Once you be mean to a guy after Coach rips him, it ain’t gonna do no good; you have to build them back up.”
After Helton, Perry said up to nine players could fill the other spots.
Among them: senior Garrett Wright, whose 5.3 points a game is next behind the returnees; senior Caleb Brown; juniors Chandler Lindon, A.J. Conley, Connor Gilliam and Asa Oneal; and freshman Levi Mayabb.
“Garrett Wright could be very instrumental in that; this summer he improved tremendously,” Perry said. “He’s quicker, he’s more athletic. This summer, he led the team in scoring with 18 points a game. (Mayabb) put on about 15, 20 pounds of muscle; he’s increased his athleticism, his jumping, his speed.”
Lindon and Conley would be the first two off the bench.
“I feel like I’ve just gotta step up in a bigger role,” Helton said. “But I also know I have guys around me that can play and can score, too. Nobody really knows about ’em because they didn’t play much last year.
“In my opinion, I think this is one of the better shooting teams we’ve ever had,” Helton said. “We have guys that are willing to work, willing to play hard. We have a really good team.”
Perry doesn’t talk about 20 or more wins, but duplicating 2018’s 62nd District title would be nice.
“We want to win as many as we can win,” Perry said. “ … We’re gonna win some, we’re gonna lose some, we’re gonna learn some. It’s those games that we learn that are gonna help us toward the end of the season.”
Helton doesn’t mind if people consider Morgan County an unknown.
“I’m kinda glad nobody expects us to do anything big,” Helton said. “I really think this team is capable of more than what people think.”